Hands-on DEI in STEM Showcase sparks conversations to enhance STEM experiences

The event was planned by Elon's leadership team overseeing a six-year, $377,800 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to transform first-year STEM experiences and promote belonging in STEM programs among historically underrepresented groups.

More than a dozen projects advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM programs — each led by faculty and staff spanning the university — were highlighted at an event intended to increase collaboration and connect new and ongoing projects to potential funding.

The Hands-On DEI in STEM Showcase invited faculty and staff working in DEI to share information about and increase support for ongoing efforts to enhance belonging and success in science, technology, engineering and math programs. Projects presented included new peer mentoring initiatives, curricular innovations and revisions, and professional development opportunities. Stations set up throughout Hunt Atrium invited attendees to respond to prompts, such as “If you could ask a student about DEI in STEM, what would you want to know?”

Jen Dabrowski presents in front of a projector screen
Jen Dabrowski, associate professor of chemistry, speaks at a Hands-on DEI in STEM Showcase in Hunt Atrium of Founders Hall, Sept. 28, 2023.

The forum was held on Sept. 28 in Founders Hall and organized by Elon’s leadership team overseeing a six-year, $377,800 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) initiative.

“One of our goals in putting this event together was to continue these conversations around DEI in STEM across departments and make connections with each other,” said Ryne VanKrevelen, lecturer in statistics and a member of the IE3 leadership team.

HHMI’s IE3 initiative is designed to systemically transform approaches to DEI and STEM education by connecting 104 institutions to collaborate in creating solutions to foster success and belonging among historically underrepresented groups. Elon is a member of a 14-institution Learning Community Cluster that spans the U.S. and includes large R1 institutions, historically black colleges and universities, and small and mid-size private institutions.

“This was such a wonderful opportunity to learn what others at Elon are doing, and the whole point of this is for us to connect and multiply our ability to do good in the world,” said Sirena Hargrove-Leak, professor of engineering and a member of the leadership team. “I can’t wait to dig into the Post-it Notes and note cards to see what people had to say and explore those ideas.”

Sirena Hargrove-Leak speaking with two attendees
Sirena Hargrove-Leak, professor of engineering, chats at a Hands-on DEI in STEM Showcase in Hunt Atrium of Founders Hall, Sept. 28, 2023.

Through IE3, Elon has access to $30,000 annually to support internal DEI in STEM projects, and up to $330,000 per year for projects that partner with institutions in Elon’s Learning Community Cluster. That funding could be used for projects showcased at the event or others developed by faculty and staff.

“If you have ideas in the back of your head and need funding, this is a great place to get it,” said Jen Uno, associate professor of biology, associate director for the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and a member of Elon’s leadership team. “This is HHMI’s way of trying to shake things up and help us think of different approaches to create and sustain DEI in STEM and correct disparities.”

Among the 13 projects presented at the Hands-on DEI in STEM event were:

Supporting Undergraduates from Community College to Excel and Succeed in STEM (SUCCESS)

Objective: Boost and support STEM transfers from Alamance Community College to Elon.

Details: Faculty professional development workshops occurred in the spring 2023 semester to redesign aspects of courses with attention to students’ growth mindset and universal design of courses. The team plans to submit a full proposal to the NSF for six more years of funding.

Project team: Professor of Engineering Sirena Hargrove-Leak, Associate Professor of Biology Jen Hamel, Assistant Professor of Biology Jessica Merricks, and Melinda Holland, biotechnology and biosciences instructor at Alamance Community College.

Elon Women in STEM

Objective: Increase belonging and success among female-identifying students in STEM through peer mentoring and student-focused professional development.

Details: Pilot program through Accelerate Success, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Student Professional Development Center. Fifty students participated in 2022-23, and 87 are involved in 2023-24. Juniors and seniors mentor first-year and sophomore students in navigating STEM courses. Participants complete career-readiness activities, network with professionals in STEM careers and are involved in extracurricular events and competitions.

Project Team: Terri Mitchell, founder of Accelerate Success, and Laurie Judge, senior associate director of career services for Elon College.

‘Getting on the Same Page’: Crucial Conversations with Caregivers

Kim Stokes with a microphone in front of the Clark Prototype Lab
Kim Stokes, associate professor of physician assistant studies and department chair/program director for the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, speaks at a Hands-on DEI in STEM Showcase on Sept. 28, 2023.

Objective: Curricular innovation to create an interdisciplinary case study opportunity for students in Human Service Studies, the Doctor of Physical Therapy and Physician Assistant programs to practice care for children with special needs and their families.

Details: Students in each program gain experience being on the health care team of a child with special needs. The pilot program in spring 2022 included 21 students in human service studies, 43 students in the physical therapy program and 38 students in in the physician assistant program. Initial success led to planning an annual event for those programs and will include Elon’s nursing students in the future.

Team: Lecturer in Human Service Studies Monica Burney, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy Education Melissa Scales, Associate Professor and Program Director for the Department of Physician Assistant Studies Kim Stokes, and Karen Tartick of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill’s School of Physical Therapy

Starting Early in Medicine (SEIM)

Objective: Increase access to STEM education and medical careers for middle school students, particularly students of color, and develop patient-centered teaching skills that health care providers need.

Details: Students in the Physician Assistant Program teach middle school students basic anatomy, physiology and physical examination of select body systems. It began in September 2021 and will run through 2026.

Team: Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies Alexis Moore, Executive Director of the Center for Access and Success Travella Free, and Program Coordinator of the It Takes a Village Project Sydney Simmons

Intro to Math/Stats Learning Assistant Pilot

Objective: Create a peer-to-peer support network in MTH 1510 Calculus 1 and STS 2120 Statistics in Application through trained learning assistants.

Details: Learning assistants will receive training in inclusive pedagogy, metacognition and other principles, attend introductory courses, hold office hours and meet biweekly for reflection and additional training. A four-section pilot will run in spring 2024.

Team: Lecturer in Statistics Ryne VanKrevelen and Associate Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Kristen Mazur

Integrated Intro to Environmental Science Lab-Lecture

Faculty and staff seated in Hunt Atrium
Faculty and staff gathered for the Hands-on DEI in STEM Showcase in Hunt Atrium of Founders Hall, Sept. 28, 2023.

Objective: Revise curriculum to enhance success introductory environmental science courses.

Details: Use labs to reinforce course learning objectives, scientific skills and better connect science to students’ lives. Two sections will pilot the program in spring 2024, with revisions over the summer to be followed by a pilot including five sections in fall 2024.

Team: Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Kelsey Bitting, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Amanda Chunco and Lecturer in Environmental Studies Jacob Rutz.

In addition to VanKrevelen, Uno and Hargrove-Leak, Elon’s IE3 leadership team includes Associate Professor of Chemistry Jen Dabrowski; Assistant Provost for Scholarship and Creative Activity and Professor of Psychology Amy Overman; Dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences Gabie Smith; and Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Associate Professor of Education Randy Williams.

The institutions in Elon’s Learning Community Cluster are Fairfield University, Fisk University, Fort Lewis College, Hamilton College (New York), Oglethorpe University, Otterbein University, Portland State University, Simmons University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Iowa, University of Minnesota-Morris, University of New Mexico-Main Campus and Xavier University (Ohio).

Sticky notes attached to a white board asking for Faculty Professional Development ideas around DEI
One of the whiteboards prompting responses about professional development at the Hands-on DEI in STEM Showcase on Sept. 28, 2023.

Smith said the team plans to engage with Elon students this year to learn more about their experiences in Elon’s STEM courses and use surveys and focus groups to learn what resources or opportunities they would like to see in Elon’s programs.

“Students and their needs are central to this work, and we are eager to invite them into the conversation,” Smith said. “We know that many across the university are involved in efforts to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion. This event was meant to celebrate work that is already happening at Elon and to foster a network of support for that ongoing work.”

Anyone wanting to learn more about the IE3 grant or Elon’s DEI initiatives in STEM should contact Smith at gsmith@elon.edu.